France calls report of US spying ‘unacceptable’

American envoy is summoned to answer questions

PARIS — The National Security Agency has carried out extensive electronic surveillance in France, a French newspaper reported Monday, drawing an angry condemnation from an important US ally.

The report, based on secret documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, was published in Le Monde, the authoritative French newspaper, the day Secretary of State John Kerry arrived here for an official visit.

Adding to the previous disclosures about the agency’s wide surveillance net abroad, the article said the agency had recorded 70 million digital communications in a single month, from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.


French officials called the spying “totally unacceptable” and demanded that it cease.

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The Foreign Ministry summoned the US ambassador, Charles H. Rivkin, who met with ministry officials Monday morning.

“These kinds of practices between partners are totally unacceptable and we must be assured that they are no longer being implemented,” Rivkin was told, according to a ministry spokesman, Alexandre Giorgini.

The interior minister, Manuel Valls, speaking on Europe 1 Radio, called the disclosures “shocking” and said they “will require explanation.”

“If an allied country is spying on France, it’s totally unacceptable,” he said.


Previous disclosures from the documents leaked by Snowden, a fugitive former NSA contractor, had already pulled the veil off NSA spying in other allies of the United States, including Germany, England, Brazil, and Mexico.

In June, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the agency had eavesdropped on EU offices in Brussels and Washington.

Probably the most serious diplomatic breach was the disclosure in September that the NSA had intercepted the communications of the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff. Brazil called the spying “an unacceptable violation of sovereignty.”

The newspaper report Monday was co-written by Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist whose articles have conveyed most of the Snowden disclosures published so far, and a Le Monde correspondent.

The report did not make entirely clear what the NSA had swept up but it appeared that the agency took a vacuum-cleaner approach, recording 70 million communications, the report said, including telephone calls and instant messages. It was not clear how many of those were listened to or read.


The article also noted that the interceptions were coded “Drtbox” and “Whitebox” with the vast majority falling into the former category. However, it was not clear what those categories implied, nor why the report was limited to a single month.

Le Monde went on to say that the documents indicated that in addition to tracking communications between people suspected of having links to terrorism, the NSA surveillance program may have targeted communications involving prominent figures in the worlds of business, politics or the French administration.

Last summer, President François Hollande criticized the US program, saying that France “could not accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies.”

Since then, however, it became clear that France’s espionage agency, the General Directorate for External Security, also carried out extensive data collection on French citizens without clear legal authority, suggesting that although the technology used by the United States may be more sophisticated, electronic eavesdropping as an antiterrorism and anticrime tool is broadly practiced.

Giorgini said that Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius would discuss the issue with Kerry when the two meet Tuesday, although the main purpose of the meeting was to talk about the Middle East and Iran.

President Obama called Hollande to discuss France’s concerns, telling the French president that the United States is reviewing its intelligence-gathering to ensure a balance between security and privacy.

After arriving in Paris, Kerry also said America is working to find the right balance between protecting individuals’ security and privacy rights, the Associated Press reported. Kerry said protecting people’s security in today’s world is a ‘‘very complicated, very challenging task’’ but was designed to protect US citizens.

The United States ‘‘gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,’’ said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House. ‘‘We've begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.’’